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  1. Wealth
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February 24, 2009

Andrew Roberts

By Spear's

An invitation arrives for the launch of Alain de Botton’s new book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, which will doubtless be great fun. Yet it joins a weirdly bare mantelshelf.

An invitation arrives for the launch of Alain de Botton’s new book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, which will doubtless be great fun. Yet it joins a weirdly bare mantelshelf.

The Observer has reported that the whole concept of the publishing party is being jettisoned by publishers because of the credit crunch, with only a fraction being given compared to this time last year. That’s certainly my own experience, and a private tragedy for me because I was utterly addicted to them.

A committed launchaholic, I’d think nothing of attending three book launches per night, often spending more time in the taxis going from one to the next than at the parties themselves. My diary records that I went to 22 in the space of ten days this time last year, but only five in the same period this year.

As well as for obsessives like me, it’ll be sad for the authors if publishing bashes become completely extinct. Authors work hard over several years — one of my books took six years to write — and the research and writing can be lonely work.

At the end of it all they deserve one evening of enjoyable, boozy self-glorification, preferably at the publishers’ expense. There are also often a lot of people to thank, such as fact-checkers, agents, publicists, editors, literary editors, reviewers, copy-editors and especially spouses, who have helped to create the book. A launch is the ideal way of doing that all at once.

Another publishing party that will take splendidly little notice of the credit crunch is that being given at Tate Britain by Lady Annabel Goldsmith for the Zambian writer Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid.

Dedicated to my friend the late Lord Bauer, and with a penetrating introduction by Niall Ferguson, Dambisa’s book is subtitled ‘Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is Another Way for Africa’.

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No one could be better placed than Dambisa to write a book lambasting the way that international aid actually holds Africa back, rather than helping it to develop. Her curriculum vitae includes working at the World Bank and Goldman Sachs, studying at Harvard, and taking a doctorate from Oxford.

(I will risk accusations of sexism to point out that as well as being brilliantly clever she’s also drop-dead gorgeous.)

In a sense, a black African woman can level criticisms at the aid culture that might sound racist coming from the white non-African men who presently dominate the public debate on the subject.

Since 1970, sub-Saharan Africa has been given more than $300 billion in development assistance, yet as Dambisa searingly points out, most of the countries there ‘flounder in a seemingly never-ending cycle of corruption, disease, poverty, and aid-dependency’.

Far from helping these countries out of their troubles, she argues, aid has actually made the situation far worse. It’s rare that a single book can genuinely alter the terms of reference for an entire national — indeed in this case international — debate, but I suspect that Dead Aid is about to do just that.

Have those people so vocally calling for the nationalisation of Britain’s banks stopped to think of the civil libertarian aspects of the question? Do we really want the state ultimately deciding who can and who cannot borrow money, get a mortgage, and so on?

As the state becomes ever more intrusive into our lives anyhow, are there not severe implications for our freedom as citizens of having the Government ultimately running our bank and savings accounts? A free people needs its assets to be protected from an over-mighty state, not administered by it.

What if the government one day simply deemed it politically inexpedient to lend money to certain individuals or companies? Organisations such as Liberty, which are currently obsessed with CCTV, Iraq and 42-day detention, should be campaigning vigorously against bank nationalisation on moral and civil-libertarian grounds, but of course they won’t. Where’s Shami Chakrabarti when we really need her?

I’ve written a book about World War II but don’t know what to call it. All the best titles seem to have been taken already, and when I broadcast an appeal for a title on the Saturday Live programme on Radio 4, the best that listeners could come up with were truly appalling puns such as ‘Tanks a Million’ and ‘Tanks for the Memory’.

Readers of Spear’s WMS, being in the top centile of high IQs, must have better suggestions. The book starts with Hitler’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 and ends with Japan’s formal surrender six years and one day later, and covers every front. Any ideas? If so, please write to Spear’s WMS. If I use it, lunch is on me. No puns, though.

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